Judge denies tribes' request to halt Dakota Access pipeline

Despite blizzard conditions, military veterans march in support of the "water protectors" at Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on December 5, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Imag

DAPL construction can continue

A district judge has denied two Native American tribes’ plea to stop construction on the final stretch of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the underground oil pipe the tribes claim will dirty their drinking water and make it impossible to practice their religion.  

The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes asked for an emergency temporary restraining order last week that would shut down work on the underground oil pipeline until their ongoing lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which approved construction of the pipe, is decided.

In his ruling against the tribes, Washington D.C.-based Judge James Boasberg said he’ll reconsider their request at a Feb. 27 hearing. Until then, construction can continue.

The emergency request came after the U.S. Army on Tuesday announced that it had granted Texas-based gas company Energy Transfer Partners permission to start work on the final section of the North Dakota-to-Illinois pipeline.

The native tribes’ original lawsuit, filed in July, argued that North Dakota-to-Illinois pipeline would disrupt their cultural sites and could turn their drinking water supply toxic. The emergency request added that the pipeline infringes on tribe members’ right to practice the Sioux religion, which they said includes rituals that require clean water.

Dakota Access LLC, the Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) subsidiary in charge of the pipeline’s construction, called the motion “a last-ditch desperation throw to the end zone.”  

Protests and start-and-stop work

The pipeline, which is expected to carry 500,000 barrels of oil from North Dakota to Illinois daily, has been highly controversial since its inception.

ETP, a Fortune 500 company, first petitioned the government in December 2014 for permission to build the line, which will also cross through South Dakota and Iowa. All four states signed off on the plan over the succeeding 16 months; Iowa, the last, granted permission in March 2016.

In April, protesters converged in North Dakota, arguing that the pipeline was both a blow to the Native American tribes and the environment. But in July, the Army Corps of Engineers greenlit the construction work, granting the oil company permits to build at more than 200 water crossings.

The Standing Rock Sioux sued, arguing that the pipeline — which runs along the outskirts of their lands in the Dakotas — would dirty the tribe’s waterways. The Cheyenne River Sioux in August signed onto the same lawsuit.

The peaceful demonstrations swelled in size and grew tense after the lawsuits. Since the onset of the direct action, North Dakota police have arrested more than 600 protesters.

In December, the protesters celebrated when the Army, still working under former President Obama’s administration, halted construction and announced that it would look for alternative routes to avoid tribal land.

On Jan. 24, just four days into his presidency, President Donald Trump signed an executive order approving work on the pipeline. Weeks later, the Army announced it was approving work on the final part of the pipeline, overturning its December announcement.

Three months until the oil flows

Judge Boasberg’s Monday ruling denying the emergency restraining order means that construction on the pipe will continue while lawsuit continues to move through the court. ETP CEO Kelcy Warren said the remaining work on the pipeline could be done in about three months — meaning that oil could begin to flow through the pipes by the spring. Lawyers for the tribe will likely argue to expedite the lawsuit in order to get a decision before that happens.

Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux, said in a statement that the tribe is disappointed with the ruling, but not surprised.

“The tribes will continue to pursue legal remedies through the courts, seek an injunction against the pipeline and push for the full Environmental Impact Statement to be completed,” he said. “We continue to believe that both the tribes and the public should have meaningful input and participation in that process.”

While the legal battle is ongoing, protesters, too, are continuing their fight. The once thousands-strong camp in North Dakota has thinned to about 300, but demonstrators are still vocal.

On Sunday night, Paris Jackson spoke out against the pipeline at the Grammy Awards.

“We could really use this kind of excitement at a pipeline protest guys,” the 18-year-old daughter of the late Michael Jackson told the audience. “#NoDAPL.”